What should I do when another resident hurts my feelings or makes me angry?

SHARE, INC. Volunteer, Susan Donnelly, Clinical Social Work/Therapist, LCSW, recently agreed to accept questions from Village Residents regarding aging friendly in Ridgewood. 

Sue has a reputation for empathy and a sense of humor. On her website, she explains, " Empathy is the ability to walk a bit in someone else's shoes so that they might walk further or more easily, and it involves both an aptitude and a commitment. A sense of humor helps us learn wisdom."

" I'm too old to feel defensive and too smart to feel angry about little things, but I do! What should I do when another resident hurts my feelings or makes me angry?"

Susan Responds to an Aging in Place Dilemma..

This is an extremely good, and relevant, question. That is because whenever people live, or congregate, in close quarters, there are bound to be hurt and angry feelings. Just like no snowflake is alike, no two people are alike either. This makes living, and relating to others, endlessly fascinating. Try to imagine how terribly boring life would be if we all looked, felt, thought, and acted the same! The stunning diversity of our world is one of its gifts to us.

On the other hand, sometimes we wish relationships were just a bit more boring! Disagreements, conflicts, and misunderstandings can bring us down, turn us off, and even make us miserable. We can long for the opportunity to take off for a desert island, or better yet, have the person we are upset with magically transported to one.

This is when we need to think about the concept of relationship skills. We need to think about what are our particular relationship skills, and whether there are skills we could develop. Some examples of relationship skills are empathy, respect, humility, and the ability to communicate clearly and respond non-defensively. In most cases, it really does "take two to tango", and I need to first figure out what might be my part in the disagreement. If I decide to dialogue with the other person, it is disarming and effective to begin with ownership of my part of the problem.

Trying to communicate our thoughts and feelings is very important, but we need to own them as our feelings, not speak as if they are the only relevant ones, or that we speak the only truth. For example, there are quite a few disagreements where both people can be right, where neither is wrong. They simply disagree.

Also, listening is just as important, or even more so, than communicating. If you watch two people engaged in a disagreement, you can generally tell if they are truly listening to the other by watching their faces and body language. Good listeners are truly listening, not planning their retort as the other person is speaking. Good listeners are open to having their minds changed. Good listening requires good character. I can't listen well if I'm convinced I have all the answers, if I consider my point of view to always be the best point of view, or if I lack humility. Humility doesn't mean I look down on myself or lack self-confidence. It means that I acknowledge my humanity, and the humanity of others, and realize we all make mistakes, pretty much every day. Actually we embrace that. How tedious it would be to live in a world of perfect people!

There is another relationship skill that is critical for group living, or our relationships with family and friends. That is the concept of "losing the battle to win the war". In the heat of the moment, we may feel that convincing the other person that we are right and they are wrong is what matters the most. There may be instances where this is correct, for example if we are talking to someone who has been mean or cruel to someone else. On the other hand, it can be important to remember that the "battle" is the current argument, but the "war" is peace and harmony for ourselves, and for the house. We can win the argument, and make an enemy for life. Other residents could be watching, and walk away convinced we are a bully. The other person could end up very hurt and feel diminished. Winning an argument, therefore, can have long-term negative consequences.

In concluson, one of the cool things about living at SHARE is that there are always staff members and volunteers to assist us in a disagreement or confrontation. It's frequently extremely helpful to have a third party participate, one who has not been involved in the dispute. Back when we were arguing with our spouse about chores, or our teenager about curfews, we might not have had the luxury of involving a neutral third party. But now we have that opportunity, and should take advantage of it whenever we can!

While arguments and disagreements are generally uncomfortable, we should remember that engaging in them, and working for a resolution, is one of the best ways to BUILD relationship skills. And as they say in AA, practice makes progress.